Money is surging through the election battle between U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann and her Democratic challenger, Tarryl Clark, who reported totals on Wednesday that eclipse previous state fundraising records for a U.S. House race.
Clark, a state senator, said she had raised a whopping $910,000 since April in her effort to unseat Bachmann, the Stillwater Republican who has become a conservative favorite nationally.
Bachmann countered Clark's news with an even bigger bombshell: She had piled up $1.7 million in the same three-month period.
The tallies set a new high-water mark for Minnesota U.S. House races and offer further proof that the conservative-leaning Sixth District just north of the Twin Cities is the subject of immense national attention.
Bachmann's new numbers push her total fundraising over $4.1 million for this election cycle. That's more than any U.S. House candidate in Minnesota history has raised by the November election -- let alone by July.
Clark is also miles ahead of previous House challengers in Minnesota. In April she became the first non-incumbent House candidate in Minnesota to raise $1 million by the first filing period of the year. She is now the first to surpass $2 million by July.
The totals dwarf the fundraising pace of past hotly contested races in Minnesota. In July 2008, for example, then state Rep. Erik Paulsen had raised $1.4 million overall in his quest for the open seat west of the Twin Cities, compared with Ashwin Madia's $1 million haul.
"No matter which way you cut it, this is one of the most notable House races in the country," said Dave Levinthal, a spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based watchdog group that tracks campaign finance. "And it's one of the most expensive House races in the country. And that is not likely to change between now and November."
Levinthal's group, which compiles data on all congressional races, calculated that Sixth District candidates had collectively raised more by April than active candidates in all but two House races nationwide.
In this period, Clark and Bachmann boasted 24,000 and 28,000 donors, respectively. The average contribution to each campaign was about $55.
The record-breaking figures reflect a growing national interest from both sides of the aisle in Bachmann, an outspoken conservative lawmaker who has emerged as one of the most polarizing members of Congress.
She has become a staple of television shows and fundraisers across the country, amassing a loyal base eager to send her back to Washington this fall and an array of liberal foes hoping to send her packing.
Bachmann's growing celebrity and money muscle were on full display this April, when she hosted a rally and fundraiser with GOP luminary Sarah Palin in Minneapolis. On top of the thousands who cheered her at the Convention Center, more than 800 people attended a $500-per-plate private reception to benefit Bachmann and the Minnesota Republican Party.
Clark may need more than money to alter the political landscape of the Sixth District, traditionally a swing district that has become one of the most conservative in the state in recent years.
The Cook Political Report rates the area as "Likely Republican" for this fall. As part of their offensive, Minnesota GOPers have made a point of portraying Clark as a friend of new and increased taxes, citing her recent tie-breaking vote in favor of a state income tax increase.
Though Clark faces a steep climb to victory, St. Olaf College political scientist Dan Hofrenning notes that Clark can take hope from past Sixth District elections. Bachmann won a three-way race with 50 percent of the vote in 2006, but in 2008, she eked out a victory against two competitors, polling just 47 percent of the vote. This year's election will also be another three-way contest.
"For a Republican incumbent running in a fairly conservative area, it's noteworthy that (Bachmann) hasn't established a safe seat," Hofrenning said. "I think that's obviously a testament to the way she's positioned herself on the fringe of the Republican Party."
Where will it go?
Exactly what will be done with all this money largely remains to be seen.
Details of the campaign spending and donors will be revealed in complete filings to the Federal Election Commission, due to be released next week.
The most immediate beneficiary of all those millions may be television stations.
Clark has already spent nearly $50,000 on a television ad targeting Bachmann over recent comments about the BP oil spill -- one of many possible spots between now and Election Day.
Other possible places to spend money include extensive polling and get-out-the-vote efforts.
Eric Roper • 612-673-1732